Momentum in sports is a nebulous concept. Winning teams like to talk about how they've got to keep the momentum going. Losing teams talk about believing in themselves, which is often what leads to momentum. Sports writers like to talk about moments that shift momentum. Annoying sports writers like to refer to an imaginary character named "Uncle Mo" who is often said to be sitting on one team's bench. TobyMac even had an album called "Momentum" (which may be an odd title for a debut solo album if you think about it).
At any rate, I'm not sure if I believe in the whole concept of momentum, but if there were ever a Sunday to build up some momentum, this would be it. The Packers are coming off two convincing wins and have two home games to go before their bye week. By all accounts, this is a game they should dominate. Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars best player by far, will not play, and their starting quarterback is significantly banged up. If Packers can win this week, it will be the first time since last season they've won three in a row since last year, and heading into a much tougher game with Arizona, a little momentum might be nice. On paper, the Packers seem to be well positioned to gain a little momentum.
But of course, games aren't played on paper, so Green Bay still must take the field Sunday and take care of business. The Packers are banged up in their own right. Greg Jennings is out, Charles Woodson is gone for the next month or longer, Jordy Nelson may be out, and B.J. Raji is also questionable. They'll also be without the services of Sam Shields and Nick Perry again, in addition to the ever-growing list of injured but still functional players. It may seem like a guaranteed win, but the team certainly is thin in a couple areas.
Thin though they may be, however, the Packers still have a boatload more talent than Jacksonville, and it's no surprise they're heavily favored. This pleases me for a few reasons. First, they need a week to get a win while expending minimal effort, and this could be it. Such a week would be instrumental in getting a few players healthy and rested. Secondly, it may be a good opportunity to begin to integrate some of the younger players more heavily, since the team will be without some of its older players for the foreseeable future. And thirdly, if it's a big enough blowout, we might be able to see Graham Harrell throw his highly anticipated first NFL pass. (Okay, I may have made that one up.)
But the real reason I'm excited to see a weak opponent coming to town this week is this: I'm going to Lambeau on Sunday!
5 - The number of the pick in the first round of this year's draft spent by Jacksonville on wide receiver Justin Blackmon. (Could that sentence be worded in a more passive voice?) 5th overall is awfully high to draft a receiver, especially one that hasn't been terribly effective so far this year. We'll talk more about Blackmon later on.
4 - Interceptions so far this season by rookie Casey Hayward, all in the last three weeks. Sometimes I feel like I repeat myself writing these things, but it's been impossible to overstate how good Hayward has been. Well, maybe not impossible, but my point is that he's been really good for a rookie. Cornerback is an extremely difficult position, so to see him have this kind of success so early is quite amazing. I'm intrigued by the young defensive players the Packers have.
3 - Receiving touchdowns by Randall Cobb this season, including two last week. Cobb is a rising star in the Packer receiving corps and should remain so even when Greg Jennings finally returns from his groin injury. Oddly, Cobb has yet to score a receiving touchdown at home this year. He hasn't scored a home touchdown since his dubiously blocked punt return in Week 1 and hasn't found the end zone on offense at home since Week 1 of 2011.
2 - Home games between Weeks 5 and 12 for the Packers, starting with this weekend's meeting with Jacksonville. The schedule this year seems truly bizarre, with long runs of both home and road games. What's most fortunate, though, is that the Packers will finish the season with three of their final games at home. It's probably too early to start counting wins and losses, but if the Packers make it to their bye week at 6-3, things might be looking pretty good. Post bye week, if the Packers win all their home games, they'd have to score just a single road win to get to 10 wins on the year. I don't know if 10 wins will be enough to make the playoffs, but double digits in the win column is the barest of bare minimums.
1 - Functional shoulders currently possessed by Jacksonville Jaguars starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert, a first round pick in 2011, tore his labrum in his non-throwing shoulder last week, but all reports as of this point indicate he's going to give it a go this Sunday, which makes him much tougher than I am. But regardless of how tough he is, any hits on that shoulder would certainly make things unpleasant for the young Jaguar. It will be interesting to see how he holds up.
The Packers and Jaguars met last on December 14, 2008. The Jaguars officially knocked Green Bay out of playoff contention that day, handing the Green and Gold a 20-16 defeat, the fourth in a five game losing streak for the Packers. Aaron Rodgers wasn't especially sharp that day, completing just 20 of 32 passes for 278 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Ryan Grant also rushed for 56 yards on 21 carries. James Jones was probably the best performer for the Pack, piling up 132 yards on just four receptions.
Meet a Jaguar - Justin Blackmon - WR - 6'1", 207 lbs, 1st NFL season
The Jaguars traded up in April's draft to select Blackmon, giving up their first, fourth, and seventh round picks to do so. The reasoning behind the move was obvious: Blaine Gabbert needed a receiver worth passing to, and Blackmon seemed to fit the bill. Although extremely productive in college, he hasn't quite responded with the production Jacksonville would like, though, making just 14 catches for 126 yards through the early parts of this season. The former Oklahoma State product also has yet to score a touchdown in his NFL career.
If you watch his highlights (and you can here in just a second), you can see why the Jaguars were enamored with Blackmon. However, drafting him so high reveals what may be a fundamentally flawed draft plan in Jacksonville. If you're drafting in the top 10, as the Jaguars were this year, chances are you didn't get there because you had bums out at the receiver position. That may have been part of the problem, but drafting a receiver that high isn't likely to address the bigger, more fundamental issues with a team bad enough to be near the top of the draft board.
Blackmon may yet become a good player, but regardless of how good he is or will be, I'm virtually certain the Jaguars would have been better served to pick a player at a position that creates a more consistent impact. Nevertheless, he does have some pretty cool highlights, albeit only collegiate ones (so far).
The Jaguars will win if...
...they somehow pull off a Space Jam-style transfusion of talent from Aaron Rodgers to Blaine Gabbert. At the time of this writing, the Jaguars are 13.5 point underdogs, and we already know they'll be without star player Maurice Jones-Drew. Throw in a one-armed quarterback, lackluster receivers, and a defense with some serious question marks and this looks like an enormous mismatch on paper. But games aren't played on paper, so I won't say it's impossible for the Jaguars to win. They just have some serious ground to make up before the game even starts.
The Packers will win if...
...they play even close to how they've played through the last two weeks. I've said it a lot recently, but it's no less true today than it was when the Colts shocked the Packers in Indianapolis: good teams beat the teams they're supposed to beat. The Jaguars aren't just a team the Packers should beat. The Jaguars are a team that the Packers should run out of the stadium by halftime. I'll be very interested to see how the Packers play early on in this game. Hopefully they're focused and ready to go, because I wouldn't put it past any NFL-caliber team to shock a team that commits the cardinal sin of looking past an opponent.
The Pick: Packers - 34 Jaguars - 10
Even if the Jaguars technically have a chance, I don't see anything weird happening in this one. The Packers have just been playing too well recently and the Jaguars are just too injured and talent deficient. I don't think there's much of an opportunity for an upset. If you had to put money on a game, picking the Packers to cover probably wouldn't be a terrible choice. (Note: never take gambling advice from a guy who doesn't put money on games. That seems like a very flawed strategy at best.)
VIKINGS over Buccaneers JETS over Dolphins Chargers over BROWNS TITANS over Colts Patriots over RAMS Falcons over EAGLES STEELERS over Redskins Seahawks over LIONS BEARS over Panthers Raiders over CHIEFS Giants over COWBOYS BRONCOS over Saints 49ers over CARDINALS
Last week: 10-3
Season total: 69-34 (.670)